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Battling Testicular Cancer

Though curable, testicular cancer is often ignored by men who have it.



"Those testicles that don't descend seem to be predisposed for testicular cancer later in life," says Uzzo, adding that not every man born with the condition will develop testicular cancer. "It gives us the idea that these testicles are predisposed."


Testicular cancer usually manifests itself as a painless swelling or a mass in the affected testicle. A man also may experience a dull ache or the heavy feeling in the lower stomach, scrotum, or groin area, similar to what Nass experienced. Treatment depends upon whether the disease has migrated to other parts of the body.


"The first thing to do is remove the testicle and then stage the patient with a chest X-ray and CAT scan to see if the cancer has spread," Uzzo says.


To determine if lymph nodes are involved, surgery may be required to remove them. The good news is that tumor cells are very sensitive to chemotherapy and radiation, primarily because they divide and multiply so quickly. That means that nearly all -- even advanced --testicular cancer is curable.


The ACS reports that the cure rate for disease that is detected early is approaching 100%, and 90% for testicular cancer of all stages (degrees of spread) combined.


"It is one of the most eminently treatable types of cancers we have," Uzzo says.


The case of Lance Armstrong is a good example. In 1996, the world-class cyclist ignored early symptoms, including groin soreness. Before long, however, he was suffering headaches, blurry vision, and coughing up blood. A visit to his doctor revealed that testicular cancer had spread throughout his body, including to his brain. Doctors gave the elite athlete only a 50/50 chance of survival.


Nevertheless, he underwent an aggressive course of treatment: surgery to remove the affected testicle and to debulk tumors in his brain, and chemotherapy. A year later, Armstrong was pronounced cancer free.


Uzzo and others hope celebrity cases will not only alert young men about testicular cancer but also convince them to begin performing self-examination so they are familiar with the size and feeling of their testicles and will be more likely to detect subtle, early changes. But if a study done at the University of Hiddersfield in England and appearing in the September 1999 issue of the European Journal of Cancer Care is any measure, most men still don't know much about the signs, symptoms, or risks of this cancer.


In the study, researchers found that an overwhelming majority of the 203 male undergraduate and postgraduate students (20 to 45 years old) interviewed about testicular cancer either were uninformed or misinformed about the disease. More worrisome to researchers was the fact that only one man in the study group knew how to properly perform a testicular self-exam and actively practiced the procedure.

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